“I know culture, and You certainly don’t!”

On: December 25, 2009
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About Thomas Fonville
A Bachelor of Arts, specialized in New Media. Currently upgrading towards a Master of New Media. My interest in the field of new media lies in the subject of space, and how new media can shape these different spaces. My Bachelor thesis named; "Augmented space and Digital Art, or a remediation of virtual reality" concentrated on the subject of space in relation to Digital Art. Apart from new media I have a major interest in popular culture and modern art.


Last Saturday,  19th of December,  the venue of Paradiso was dedicated to the symposium of  “Me you and everyone we know is a curator.” This symposium addresses questions about quality in an age of visual overload. With an impressive line up of speakers, this symposium set their aim high. In one day time the focus was upon the problematics of web 2.0 applications which allow non experts, hobbyists and amateurs to question and undermine the authority of the professionals and gatekeepers. The day started with a big bang, as Bruce Sterling emphasized the fact that in the next decade the children of the digital natives will have an interest in the old analog culture which existed before us. This instead of the nowadays digital natives, who can’t wait to view faster, better and stronger digital systems than we have now. For an excellent transcription of Sterling’s speech I refer you to the blog post done by Morgan Currie. I must say that the notions expressed by Sterling were repeated out of context by many speakers, and to my idea simply being used because of their unprecedented sound. Just another example of our nowadays use of culture. Sterling addressed this matter as a Southern with Genteel Manners naming our use of culture Genteel Poverty, as a result of our cultural industry. This makes us nowadays culture industrialists, we solely make use of culture and no longer produce significant culture. We have arrived in the Digital Dark Ages.

But how to escape these grim times? Luckily as mentioned before, the children of the digital natives will come to the rescue. They will have interest in the analog heritage, which the parents of digital natives used to work with.

After Bruce Sterling, Julia Noordegraaf from the University of Amsterdam discussed her research into the online performance of archival material online. According to Noordegraaf we need to examine the consequence of the reuse of audiovisual material. Noordegraaf mentioned a Dutch example in which she herself was involved in judging the results. In the example shown, Noordegraaf emphasizes the use of archival material in order to construct a narrative. This example shows the user generated content, which is so much to say about. The user is not an expert, the user could have an interest in making film, but certainly is not a director by profession. Later on when Andrew Keen spoke, he was very critical about this example and stated that he found this example a very bad cinematographic experience. I must say that I must agree with him on this matter. The example shown was nice, but as always with most of user generated internet content, it relies too much on it’s charm. This example used too much thematically cliches, one could tell that a lot effort had gone into this Internet movie but still could not transcend towards a strong short film. In the short Q&A with Noordegraaf, she noted that we should move away from the notion of “I am the expert” and let users define what is popular or good cinema. Also according to Noordegraaf we need to concentrate on the behaviour of user rather than the material they use. This notion speaks towards curators as they will define the material while the users interact with this material.

Hereafter Sarah Cook took the stage along with her rapid fire English. Cook started of with an example of Bigg Miss Moviola, after which she mentioned that curators should function as filter feeders, and named some of the digital art works she had curated. Furthermore these artworks were focused upon the users as participants or contributors. Cook’s focus during her talk did remain on the context of the museum. As she stated  “museums and galleries are just a context for art”. This problem gets imminent with digital art, since this art form is not located in a museum but available online, the art form can’t get acknowledged.

It seems that the digital divide still is active amongst two worlds, the digital and the analog. These two worlds interlink and flirt heavily with each other, but do they contribute to each other? Rick Poynor talked about the old fashioned design techniques still being applied to blogs. According to Poynor the blogosphere merely creates a hybrid form of design. Still many of the weblogs refer to themselves as being a magazine. The hybrid creation of a weblog is merely the trade of old fashioned magazines with the use of new media public relation techniques. Poynor did emphasized that the writing on blogs should be seen as specialism, since writing can be considered as work. Therefore writing is for the specialist, with this notion being established with a loud response from the audience.

After Rick Poynor, Daniel van de Velde from Metahaven gave examples of extreme democracy. Van de Velde gave as example the design and fictional names in companies and products like Google, Flickr, YouTube and Facebook. He also stressed the fact that a lot of these companies or products used a contraction of two words. A logic conclusion and a popular trend in the digital, although van de Velde named a lot of examples he forgot the most obvious one being the iMac. I & you, all focused towards the user, empowering the amateur. I will return to this notion when writing about Andrew Keen.

Next up was iniator Sophie Krier, who explained some of her work and most of all what her inspiration is for this work. As Krier explained herself: “a tightrope between intension and behavior”. Krier mentioned a beautiful example of user generated art, via the use of the blog Learning To Love You More. At this blog assignments for readers would appear and readers were able to respond with reports. In this manner a rather general assignment gets many different interpretations, an excellent example of the cult of the amateur, curated by an assignment.

Krier argued for a move into a prototype world, in order to apply the online onto the offline. This notion derived from software studies where always everything is beta. For instance take a look at the browser you are viewing this document with, last year you would have had a different version. As Krier asked how can we apply this concept onto the offline? And, how can the online inform and inspire the offline?

I think the offline, or ‘actual’ does get informed and inspired by the online ‘virtual’. I think we have a lack of offline ideas applied towards the online, and online solely beta products with merely expectant users. I think Krier was also aiming to get this relation active.

After the lunch break it was time for the second bomb, which I expected to be louder. Andrew Keen took the stage to elaborate on his views of curatorship. Snippets of the speech can be seen here in the post written by Tjerk Timan. Keen who wrote in 2007 about the earlier mentioned”cult of the amateur,” wherein Keen addresses the assault of web 2.0 on our economy. With this notion he became the proclaimed “Anti Christ of silicon valley”, however dubious of a title that is.Keen immediately responded to an earlier mentioned notion of Marxism, whereas Keen looked at the Marxist economy with economics at the heart of the matter. Apart from this notion Keen mentioned the importance of cultural theorists like Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. Keen talked about the role of the gatekeeper, who would keep out the mob. Curators function as a gatekeeper with a monopoly in taste.

Nowadays with technology and culture intertwined, makes the need for electronic curators as well. Ever since technology got revolutionized, buildings are flattened and internet allows everybody to be creative. In Keen’s eyes in the electronic creative space, the barbarians have done away with the gate. The gatekeepers or curators have been replaced with the mob. Keen noticed that in order to be able to pick up a medium you do not instantly transform into an artist. As shown with Noordegraaf’s example of celluloid remix one can tell that this movie has been made by an amateur. Keen also noted that the reason that a lot of this user generated content is free, is because that is what it is worth. Keen pleads for new culture wars and he states that we should embrace the physical and be wary of the online. Keen ended his talk with a question of how to build a new authority out of mediocrity.

I must say that I agree with most of Andrew Keen’s standings, since a lot of creativity that exist online is in need of a process of filtering or gatekeeping. The fact that an artist makes use of the online, does not mean that offline traditions can be ignored. Nor the offline institutions where the amateur used to only have a role as viewer and not as contributor. Sure participatory culture is nice, and for museums highly attractive, but do keep in mind where the specialists are. And till this day specialists are still mostly found in the offline.

The day ended with a group of case studies done by their creators. First up was Willem Velthoven from Mediamatic who explained their travel program with their network of city curators. An interesting example, the video shown however did not contribute to an aesthetic view of the project. Also the fact that Velthoven kept referring to the many parties they had in relation to the project did not contribute to his story. Very nice for Mediamatic but of no interest when you are not at the party.

Hereafter followed Aram Bartholl who talked about his very interesting online themes which applies to the offline world. Very nice and very funny concepts as well. Here however can problems be found. Because for some of the themes an explanation is needed. Therefore the online world becomes a strange or non coherent object in the ‘actual’.In these projects I saw what was one of the obstacles of the theme, this division in two worlds. Too much emphasis remained on the online and the offline, I think we need to move away from these two worlds and make a choice for one. Since the application of both worlds still create problems simply because these worlds are not ment to enhance each other. They are merely an postponement of each other. Elements are simply waiting to get lost in translation. And perhaps the gate is already lost.

Another case study was explained by Dagan Cohen who initiated the Dutch Upload Cinema, his story was very clear and sufficient. I found it very interesting to see that people are willing to pay for ‘free’ content. Here one can see that the cinema experience as well as the curating experience truly add meaning and value.

In order to conclude this long and inspiring day, I must say that it was very refreshing to hear these different views upon the them of curating. I certainly hope that this symposium will return next year with other refreshing ideas. In my opinion could the case studies have been moved to the side, in order to demonstrate them more individually. Also the moderation could have been better in my opinion, and there was to little time for a proper q and a.  Apart from these notions I have nothing but the utmost respect for Sophie Krier and Mieke Gerritzen , they have created a highly timely symposium with extremely important themes for those with an interest in the cultural digital.

As concluding remark I would like to state the following: after all these years we still see that the digital is the popular uncool, likewise to television. The digital is a domain of digital natives, nerds and niche specialists. This popular attitude will keep the digital suppressed as a ball and chain that will prevent to establish the digital as high culture. If the digital would be considered as high culture, then perhaps there would be a space for it in a museum. Until that day comes, we are stuck in the Digital Dark Ages with the gimmicky use of digital applications onto our analog world.

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